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Contentious vote looms for BLM nominee

Agency has been without a director since Obama administration
Stone-Manning

Congressional Republicans are calling on President Joe Biden to withdraw Tracy Stone-Manning’s Bureau Land Management director nomination ahead of a Senate vote Thursday because of her alleged involvement in a tree-spiking incident in 1989 when she was a 23-year-old graduate student in Montana.

Conflicting versions around the situation have been debated in the halls of Congress. But one of the clear facts is that Stone-Manning sent a letter to the National Forest Service warning loggers could be hurt while cutting trees that had been spiked.

Tree spiking, a federal offense and considered an act of ecoterrorism, is when a metal rod is inserted at the base of a tree to prevent cutting it down or near the top to affect the sawmill processing the timber. The spikes can damage saws or cause injury or death to the worker.

Several Republican lawmakers, including Colorado House Rep. Lauren Boebert, are calling for the nomination to be withdrawn.

“Tracy Stone-Manning is a radicalized extremist who believes that babies are a cancer to the earth, that ranchers are destroying the West, that land management decisions are best made by bureaucrats in D.C., and that using violent tactics like tree spiking is justified in the name of environmentalism,” she said in an email to The Durango Herald. “America does not negotiate with terrorists, and it certainly shouldn’t appoint one to lead a federal agency.”

Environmentalists and Democratic lawmakers are not faltering in their support. Biden is standing by his nomination of Stone-Manning, said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Monday. Sen. John Hickenlooper, D-Colo., still supports the nomination, a spokesperson from his office told the Herald.

Republican members of the Senate Energy Committee wrote a letter to Biden asking him to withdraw the nomination. Other Republican lawmakers, including Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, have called for her nomination to be withdrawn.

Stone-Manning had a loose association with members of the environmental group Earth First at the time of the spiking and said her only involvement was sending a letter to the Forest Service. She testified against two men who were convicted of tree spiking in 1993 and received immunity.

Retired U.S. Forest Service Special Agent Michael Merkley sent a letter to the Senate Energy Committee saying Stone-Manning helped plan the tree spiking, contrary to past claims. Merkley wrote in the 1989 inquiry that Stone-Manning was “the nastiest of the suspects. She was vulgar, antagonistic and extremely anti-government.”

But Stone-Manning says she only became aware of the plan when asked to send the letter. John Blount, one of the men convicted in 1993, said in an E&E News interview Stone-Manning knew about the tree spiking “far in advance” but did not participate in planning.

Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, a trade and lobbying group representing oil and gas companies in the West, said Stone-Manning should not lead the Bureau of Land Management because of her “radical” past and lack of transparency.

“She, at best, misled the Senate about her role in that. At worst, outright lied,” Sgamma said in an interview with the Herald. “But it’s unconscionable.”

Ranking Member John Barrasso, R-Wyo., has been outspoken against the nomination.

“I am grateful to the lead investigator for providing the committee with all of the facts of the case,” said Barrasso in a news release. “Not only did Tracy Stone-Manning collaborate with ecoterrorists, she also helped plan the tree spiking in Clearwater National Forest. She has been covering up these actions for decades, including on her sworn affidavit to the committee.”

Environmentalists, including Center For Western Priorities Director Aaron Weiss, who has worked with Stone-Manning before, said the situation is a “character assassination campaign” and noted she has not been hiding the situation as many are claiming.

When filling out a Senate questionnaire, she said she’s never been charged with a crime and had not directly or indirectly participated in the spiking of trees. She added that she had been granted immunity for her testimony in 1993.

“Tracy is eminently qualified. She is incredibly knowledgeable of all of the issues that the Bureau of Land Management is going to face,” Weiss said in an interview with the Herald.

The vote scheduled for Thursday may reach a deadlock, as the Senate committee is equally divided by party. If that occurs, Senate Democrats can bring the confirmation to the Senate and force a full vote in the chamber.

There has not been a Senate-confirmed director of the BLM since the Obama administration, which should drive lawmakers to confirm Stone-Manning, Weiss said.

“There is a serious need to get Tracy confirmed quickly, so I hope they move as fast as they can so that she can get on the job and start rebuilding this agency,” he said.

An earlier version of this story erred in saying Tracy Stone-Manning worked with Earth First. She never worked for the environmental advocacy group; rather, she had a loose association with members of Earth First.

Kaela Roeder is an intern for The Durango Herald and The Journal in Cortez and a 2021 graduate of American University in Washington, D.C.

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